Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney January 6, 2008

Not walking is not cheating

Why is cricket the only major sport in the world where some people demand that players do the umpires' jobs for them?



'The one thing the players can do to help is to leave all the decisions to the umpires' © Getty Images
 

While the poor umpiring during the Sydney Test has attracted many of the headlines, much vitriol has also been directed at several players for not walking when they have nicked the ball. At best they have been accused of unsporting behaviour, at worst of downright cheating.

And yet what is it about cricket that it is the only major sport in the world where some people demand that players do the umpires' jobs for them? There is nothing in the Laws that requires a batsman to walk, although there is a widespread feeling that batsmen always used to do so in the good old days, and by not doing so now the current generation show themselves as being inferior.

The reality is that walking has always been a contentious issue. The concept grew up in social cricket in Victorian times when the whole ethos of gentlemen being sportsmen was formulated. And yet, even at that level, there were some batsmen who walked and some who did not.

WG Grace, the epitome of Victorian cricket, never walked. Lord Harris, who is possibly the most establishment figure the game has ever known, admitted in his autobiography to have stood his ground when he knew he was out. "This is a case when the umpire on appeal has decided that a batsman is not out," he wrote. "The batsman, although he knows he was out, has no business to retire from the wicket."

In the 1920s there is a story of Johnny Douglas, the Essex amateur captain, storming into the Gloucestershire dressing room to berate a young Wally Hammond, at the time a professional, for not walking. Both were at one time England captains.

And yet at the same time Jack Hobbs admitted to Gubby Allen that he had edged a ball but stayed when given not out. When Allen remonstrated, Hobbs replied that it was unfair to undermine the umpire, adding that "if I had [walked] then he would almost certainly have given me out at the next possible opportunity." Hobbs was one of the game's true gentlemen - in all but name as he was no amateur - but his point was clear. The umpire is there to make decisions and not the player.

 
 
Not walking is not cheating. Claiming a catch you know you have not caught cleanly is; the same goes for claiming a bat-pad catch when you know it was nowhere near the edge. The difference is that in one you are leaving the umpire to make his decision, in the other you are openly trying to deceive him
 

In the post-war period the debate rumbled on. There were many complaints that some batsmen were walkers unless the situation was tight in which case they would stand their ground, aided by the umpire giving them the benefit because of their reputation as a walker. Writing in The Guardian, Mike Selvey claimed that Colin Cowdrey walked for obvious decisions but not for marginal ones in the hope his reputation would save him.

When England visited Australia in 1982-83 they made a collective decision not to walk, the logic being the Australians never did so why should they. It was once said that an Australian only ever walks when his car breaks down.

Bill Lawry, a former captain of Australia, was clear about the issue when he played. "Leave it to the umpire," he said. "The umpire has a job and I have mine. I will not walk." That's fine. He knew he would get a break one day but that on another he would be on the rough end of a bad decision. His view was that the two evened themselves out. As long as a non-walker accepts a bad decision with good grace, what is the problem?

Steve Bucknor, in the eye of the Sydney storm, said a few years ago that some batsmen would only walk when they had passed a hundred and not before they had scored. "If he knows he is out and he goes, that's good for the game," he said. "But the umpire should not depend on someone who is a walker. Otherwise, that same walker may embarrass the umpire.''

In short, unless every player in the world walks without hesitation, it won't work - and human nature means that simply will not happen. There is too much at stake to ask even the most ardent walker to give himself out when he gets the thinnest of edges after being on the receiving end of a string of bad decisions and is, as a result, batting for his place.

Not walking is not cheating. Claiming a catch you know you have not caught cleanly is; the same goes for claiming a bat-pad catch when you know it was nowhere near the edge. The difference is that in one you are leaving the umpire to make his decision, in the other you are openly trying to deceive him.

The umpiring at Sydney was as poor as the umpiring was good in Cape Town. The officials got several decisions badly wrong, and not just ones that the benefit of endless replays showed as being errors. That is something for the ICC to address as it is becoming clear that the demands put on a tiny panel of elite umpires by a burgeoning fixture list is causing the best of them to crack.

The one thing the players can do to help is to leave all the decisions to them. The one thing the public can do is to accept that players should not be expected to act as their own hangmen.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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